The Philosophy of Hindu Nationalist Politics in India

Posted on February 26, 2012

By P. V. Swati

When India became independent in 1947, one of the many choices it had to make was with regard to the religion it would embrace. Equality was one of the ideals that the country had adopted as its strategy so the leaning towards a secular path due to the immense diversity of the country was an immediate corollary. The idea of secularism as it is understood in India today is, though, quite different from the one in the west. Secularism in the west chalks out an area in public life where religion is not admitted. It is a phenomenon that has been adopted by many modern nation states and implies separation of the state from religion and also suggests freedom of the individual. However, it does not imply a hostile relationship between the two, only that they are mutually exclusive. In India, such a strict separation of the state with religion is not tenable since religion has seeped into every pore of our society; therefore the Indian definition of secularism is different. It refers to the tolerance and acceptance of all religious communities i.e. it embodies ‘religious neutrality’ without discrimination, although certain provisions have been made for minority communities. The term ‘secular’ did not figure originally in the constitution and it was only through the 42nd amendment that the word was incorporated in the preamble. There exists no state religion in India. The constitution guarantees both individual and collective freedom of religion and the right to freely propagate, profess and practice any religion under Article 25.

With capitalist modernisation, it was expected that religion would get side-lined, however, in India advancement of capitalism has led to an intensification of communalism. One reason for this may be that secularism has now become only a floating ideology and has lost its zeal and character that it had earlier possessed. India has always been a diversified community where Hindus have historically been a majority and conflicts such as those of Hindus and Muslim have been continuing since the commencement of the colonial rule, therefore it is necessary to constantly assess and pattern policies to ensure equality which the policy makers and leaders have failed to do. This unsure commitment to secularism has led to greater social and economic conflicts resulting in an explosion of communal fears and sensibilities across bourgeois political parties and communities. Hindu nationalism is one such result.

Hindu nationalism is also marked by an attempt to make Hindus self-conscious of their own identity as Hindus, in such a way that it transcends other social, cultural, political, identities. This can be possible through spreading awareness about one’s own shared history, and then mobilizing this created identity to glorify the claims of Hindus. The ultimate aim is the assertion of the Indian region as belonging to the Hindus. Hindu nationalists attempt to redefine Hinduism as the highest achievement of spirituality along with an open and tolerant space with no orthodoxy. However, what they overlook is that Hinduism is not one identity and interests are not unified.

Many who propagate Hindu Nationalism believe that all Indians share a common kinship, blood and ethnicity therefore all differences can be encompassed within the larger Indian identity. He calls this idea as ‘Hindutva’. They claim Hinduism to be a way of life and not a religion and equate Indians to being Hindus, insinuating that Christians and Muslims will always remain the ‘other’ and would be excluded. These ‘others’ have not always been so, since their fore fathers were Hindus as they claim. They should thus be ‘brought back into the Hindu fold’ i.e. they should be ‘assimilated’. Those who profess this stream of though also believe that secularism is a form of subjugation for Hindu nationalism.

Hinduism can be seen to manifest itself in another arena, which is in the mobilisation of women into the public work field. Anxieties around sexuality are central to Hindutva mobilizing. The Hindu male is described as celibate but sexually potent whereas the Muslim male is seen as aggressive, violent and exploitative of women. Hindu women too have a chaste, pious, virtuous brand attached to them, which the quintessential Muslim man is on to violating.

During the Colonial rule, nationalism had a very Hindu orientation in the form of the ideological institutions such as the Brahmo Samaj, slogans, songs, modes of expression. This dominant ‘Hindu’ character continued even after independence through the decades. The 1990s marked the onward march of the Hindutva movement. The peaking of this politics was the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 following much debate about birth place of Ram in the place where the Mosque had been constructed. It led to widespread riots and unrest. This incident took place when BJP was in power under the NDA government. Subsequently another outbreak took place in 2002 with the large scale massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, again under the BJP Government.

Hindutva politics is represented by a group of political organisations called the Sangh Parivar with their parent as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). It was founded in 1925 and is essentially a cultural organisation. It involves itself in running educational institutions, in the process however, promotes rabid anti-minority views. Many leaders of BJP hail from the RSS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as we know today has emerged from its former variant, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh which merged into the Janata Party after the Emergency. The BJP last formed the government in 1999 within a coalition known as NDA (National Democratic Alliance). BJP is a Hindu right-wing organisation, yet it moulds its philosophy to incorporate ideologies of other communities when convenient. In 1985, Shah Bano became the name around which the BJP was able to revive its Hindutva agenda. Through the judgement, BJP was able to perpetuate its stand on ‘appeasement of the minorities’ and demand for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

Another right wing organisation is the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) which was founded in 1964. It promoted the ban on cow slaughter thereby endorsing ‘Hindu culture’. The youth wing of this organisation, the Bajrang Dal commits itself to the protection of Hindu identity and in the process legitimises violence and killing.

With the coming of globalisation along with liberalisation and privatisation in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there is a threat to Indian markets, goods, resources which the Hindu nationalists see as a threat to Hindu identity. It is in this context that the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) was formed in 1991 as a platform for opposing ‘economic imperialism’. It takes strong positions against the activities of multinational corporations in India.

The Shiv Sena, a Hindu right-wing organisation though not a part of the Sangh Parivar, shares a common hate for Muslims. It has established itself in Maharashtra and has also formed the government in the state on different occasions.

Hindu nationalism is thus a way of life for many Hindus and these individuals will continue to defend their politics and their so called ‘identity’ which they feel has been threatened by the ‘other’. This is however, not the viewpoint of every Hindu, or even every Ram worshipper. This may be one of the reasons why BJP even with its seemingly inclusionary, elastic, flexible politics has still not been able to gain mass support to form the government after 2004 and probably will not do so even in the future.

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